Mt. Lillian Loop

Kim and I decided to head east for one final larch hike this season. Kim and I did this hike in late June 2007. At that time it was a great flower hike. We left Seattle at 7:00 am. After a stop in Cle Elum we headed up Highways 970 then 97. At the turn off to Liberty Kim stopped. There is a beaver dam right by the junction. Nice yellow colors on the trees and reflections in the beaver pond. No beavers in sight. From there it was straight on to Blewett Pass. I have done many larch hikes in the Teanaway area but had not gone up to Blewett Pass. Thee are a lot more larch trees near the highway than I would have guessed. It was cloudy and the colors were outstanding.

We turned off to the right and headed uphill. Larch trees were all along the road. In places the road was colored golden yellow by dropped larch needles. A few side spur roads with no tire tracks were completely covered in needles. I had never seen that before. At 3.8 miles we turned to the left. Our progress was slowed significantly my a number of photo stops along the road. Soon we came to the narrow section of road with a long drop off the side. We had already passed several trucks with hunters and one more just before the narrow section. I would not want to meet another car here.

The view out to a sea of larch trees was spectacular. Clouds swirled down below us. At the top of the narrow section we found another hunter who had stopped and waited for us to pass. At the next junction we continued straight ahead to Haney Meadow. The road was a little muddy in spots but overall is still in good shape. We arrived at the meadow at 10:20. By 10:30 we were on our way. The route begins with a road walk. It's very muddy at first and better to just walk it. In a few minutes we reached the Old Ellensburg Trail which would be the close of our loop.

We were able to leave the road on trail for a short way. The trail met the road where it petered out to trail once again. The Mt. Lillian Trail begins to climb. We could see larch trees behind Haney Meadow but saw few on the way up Mt. Lillian. The trail nears the edge of the ridge and we took a short side trail to the rim. The drop off to Devils Gulch is most impressive. We knew that from our previous visit. This day the visibility was measured in feet not miles. Clouds were blowing up from below and we could not see much. Still, the minimal views through the clouds were neat in their own way.

We saw some of the remains of the spring and summer flower show. The white stems looked like bones. The themes of the day were larch trees and bones. We continued along the edge of the ridge until we met up with the trail again. The summit of Mt. Lillian is really nearly a flat plateau. Last time we looked for the highest spot. This time we just headed on by. Just below Lillian are spires of weird rock. They're full of big and small pits. Not like anything I've seen in the Cascades. We dropped down to take a closer look as on our previous visit. It was also time for some lunch.

With all our photo stops it was already after 12:00 pm. We climbed back up to the ridge and it soon began to descend. The trail comes very near more of those strange spires. The dead white remains of balsamroot plants replaced the bright yellow ones we saw in June. We could often see larch trees in the gaps in the forest but few were right near us. There were some sections of trail that were covered in golden larch needles.

The trail reaches a road. There is a trail sign pointing the way we came. There is no sign suggesting which way to go. We had this same question on our previous trip. We did not remember which way we went then. A scan of the map suggested we go left. That was correct. In a few minutes we reached the signed Howard Creek Trail. Larch trees beckoned in the distance and we followed the road farther. We did not get close to many larch trees but did see some huge specimens near the road. Back at the Howard Creek Trail we began a gentle descent.

The trail is in forest that seems carefully planned to avoid as many larch trees as possible. We did see them in the distance but few were along the trail. There are a number of meadows to break up the forest. Before they were full of flowers. This time of year it was brown grasses and dead white stems. Different but beautiful in a very different way. We came to one junction with only a trail number. It was after we picked up Howard Creek. That trail crossed the creek. We next reached the junction with the Old Ellensburg Trail. That would be our return route.

The trail climbs 600', about half the day's total. We had distant views of more larch trees in the mist. We also come closes to a few very big larch tree trunks. They looked like pine trees except for a few yellow needles still on the trees. Our route topped out then began to descend back towards Haney Meadow. The trail winds around before eventually reaching the road once again. A short walk brought us back to the truck. It was mostly dry the first half of the trip but good umbrella weather the second half. We saw exactly zero people.

This was a great day. We saw far more larch trees than I expected. Many were losing there needles but even more were still looking good. The cloudy weather really brought out the colors but it never rained hard. The fog and clouds added to the mood. Best of all, this is a place I had never gone to see larch trees. Not a new hike but so different from the previous time. A heck of a way to spend a cold wet day at the start of November.

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Trips - 2008